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The Polarity of Evil -- How Evil Can Be Understood

Updated: Apr 11

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AI Image by Mr. Elad Muskatel


The Elusive Truth of Evil: Motive, Justification, and the Blurred Lines of Morality

As some of you may have already noticed based on my earlier work, evil is a fascinating concept when applied to non-fiction. The more realistically complex an issue gets, the more one realizes that people very rarely use plain evil as the justification for their actions. The most opposite figure in this regard is the Joker from the DC Universe franchise. He serves as an example of pure, motiveless evil, which is in contrast to the real world where everyone operates with some underlying reason, however warped it may appear.

This blurring of lines is crucial. Because it is so easy for us humans to disagree with one another, any controversial act, even a crime, could be seen as logically justified by a few, while the attempt to condemn or stop it could be seen as the true evil (like drinking alcohol at a 1920's speakeasy during the prohobition era).

This leaves us with a paradox: The only act that cannot be judged as evil is one that is without any motive whatsoever. Without motive, it would be impossible to logically conclude the true intention of one's deeds. This is because evil without an intention that cannot be seen as wrong, cannot technically be evil, even in an existence where everything has a reason. Thus, you can't really be evil if you don't intend to be (hence the existence of accidents and misfortune caused by innocence).

This complexity brings to light the power dynamics inherent in our interpretations of good and evil. The cliché expression, "might makes right," reflects this truth. The entity or ideology with the most physical power is the one more likely to receive the most agreements, and thus, be seen as justified. Likewise, the notion of democracy as the most preferred regime of any nation was not always regarded as such. In fact, Socrates disagreed with its competency, believing that the people are not always capable of deciding the best leadership for their country.

Challenging Perspectives: The Evolving Notions of Good and Evil Across Time and Cultures

Mind you, most of humanity's history has been filled with absolute monarchies and other forms of totalitarian governments (due to fear from external, "barbarian threats", for example), where it was "okay" to execute someone for treason or any reason the ruler believed to be justified. Unless the population was happy with what they got, your average pre-modern regime remained under the same ruler for as long as they survived before either getting killed, dying of old age, being sent to exile, and so on.

What if Socrates wrote about his disbelief in democracy on Twitter? Surely, he would get a lot of hate from the world, but if your average Athenian or any other native to the time Socrates lived in heard his words, chances are they would logically agree with him. They would not shame him in the town square like some contemporary people might do nowadays on such media.

What if we lived in an alternative universe where communism reigned supreme as most of the world's countries' political ideology? For example, what if the Soviet Union won the Cold War, and many countries fell to the influence of communism? Surely in such a universe, the notion of democracy would be seen as less desirable, or even as evil, if the propaganda did its job.

In such a world, assuming there would be social media, expressing your thoughts in deep favor of democracy would get you shamed as well by that network's users, if not get you killed for treason, and few would protest on your behalf due to fear from being executed themselves. It is why courage is capable of oppressing tyranny itself, and reshaping the moral, subjective reality of countless citizens.

Reflection on Norms, Perspectives, and Globalization

What I'm saying is that, in some way, the dictating norms of what we should think and believe, could be evil to others as they are seen as good to us. Even in a world that is mostly ruled by liberal democracies, if someone from the far past would hear about such a regime, which we see as good and ideal, they may comment very negatively about our world's state of affairs, due to it being so democratic.

To put it even simpler, those who do or think for the sake of evil are extremely few; the vast majority of us do and think what we believe to be good, even if someone may believe it to be evil.

This is how mind-blocking our norms can be, because should someone criticize our thoughts and/or endeavors to be evil, what are the odds that we will genuinely agree with them and confess we're evil, while liking it? Perhaps some will do it out of mockery towards that critic, but in the end, extremely few are the people who believe in evil or genuinely want to be evil, whether or not evil has an objective definition that most, if not all, would agree with.

As many of you may already know, I was born in Israel and I live in it to this day, and it's perhaps one of the most hated countries in this century. Some may accuse Israel of being evil, if not satanic, but ask anyone who is in favor of Israel's actions, and it's very unlikely that they will agree with you about her evil, even if both you and them may have the same awareness and knowledge of what's going on in the Middle East and in the world in general.

Even Hitler would not tell you that he's the personification of evil, even though he appears that way very much in the eyes of many; he would claim, after all, that he was a vegetarian. Surely an evil person won't eat innocent animals? As many of us do on a regular basis? You may use moral vegetarianism as a front for your other moral depravities. That is known as a red herring fallcy.

Perhaps it is only when the world becomes fully globalized, AKA, if a single or a coalition of cultures will "conquer" the world's population, under a universal culture, that we will be able to optimally determine, at least during that "conquest," what is actually good and what is actually evil. Such "conquering" has been partially implemented already—murder and other crimes have become almost entirely illegal over our world's history, as it's logical that we shouldn't murder.

And yet, medieval regent who mistreated his wife would not receive the same negative reception as a contemporary one who would do just that.

Imagine what would happen if your country's leader were accused of a criminal act today, compared to yourself. That politician can affect the laws while you cannot, giving him or her advantage over how justice is enforced (if at all). Your far-away ancestor, however, might not even really care and return to their work in defeatist apathy. They might even justify it the case of the previous paragraph, claiming that a woman should not resist her husband's command or something in that now-disgusting way (but objectively sexist).


In summary, norms can be as noble as they can be dastardly and wicked, and they have a role in subjecting our perception to morality. What we were taught to believe as good and appropriate is not an undeniable truth, even if many would scold you for believing otherwise. From an education such as mine I learned the importance of fearing disrespecting nuclear family. How many of you have the dignity to not disrespect those who raised you, provided for you, and gave you education?

Cooperation between individuals on moral grounds is only possible once there is some kind of shared recognition of morality, as long as that moral viewpoints do not contradict one another, and thus, polarize themselves and those who hold them.

In fact, one may even claim that there is no such thing as an undeniable truth when it comes to the very gray area that is the philosophical field of ethics. In many ways, unless we're brave enough to disagree and express that disagreement, much of who we are is indeed a product of our environment. However, without a vocal opposition to the norms, they will rarely change.

And yet, we must recognize somehow that in someone's eyes, we might be evil in one way or another. And instead of getting into pointless arguements with them, a more intelligent approach is to actually understand why.

Perhaps instead of giving in to the feelings of being accused, we can keep an open mind and explore new ideas. And because of too much emotion, we might as well be attacking the philosophical exploration of ideas in the name of our feelings.

Is it worth it?

John Duran's Testimonial Quote

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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